They were just two footloose ladies from Chester County last Thursday, on a week's vacation in England. Kimberly Starnes, treating herself to a 30th birthday present, and her 18-year-old niece, Karmon Taylor. Castle tours, London Bridge, sticking out their tongues at the Buckingham Palace guards -- all the fun stuff.
Then, England constricted at a moment's notice as a terror plot was foiled. Suspects were locked up, and the world watched TV news that said Muslim terrorists wanted to blow up planes headed back to the United States.
Just like a plane they would have to ride to get home.
Thursday, they heard the nervous banter among Britons, saw the newspaper extras with banner headlines and BBC television coverage, but most people in the London subway -- the Tube -- and other places were calm.
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"People saw that we were Americans and wanted to know what we thought," Starnes said. "It was all anybody was talking about. We didn't know anything. We just found out ourselves."
They rushed to an Internet cafe to send a mass e-mail home to family saying they were safe. The trip was Taylor's first time on a plane.
By Friday, London was even more of a secured city. Cops were all over the place, they said, and the Tube was almost empty. Starnes formulated an alternate plan of riding a train to France, then flying home if restrictions were so tight she and Taylor couldn't get out.
Back in Chester County, a family waited. Phones and computer lines rang hot.
"It was pretty hairy there for a time," said Starnes' father, Franklin. "We didn't know until we got the e-mail. Then we saw it on TV. You try not to worry. But we just wanted them home."
Saturday, Starnes and Taylor still had to go to the airport and fly home. They knew high security restrictions meant the only carry-on baggage would be a clear plastic bag with the essentials. Shampoo, along with all the other stuff that was banned, was tossed. Souvenirs were stashed in a suitcase.
They left their hotel on a train for Gatwick airport seven hours before their flight. The train was fine -- except for the guy on the train sitting across from Starnes. Already in the course of a few days on the Tube, the duo had seen a fight and cursing French drunks. But this was worse.
"Blood on his shirt, bruised face, lip swollen," Starnes said. "A cut head. Shirt in pieces. And here we are on a train with the guy, and on the way to the airport."
The guy never blinked. But the trip wasn't nearly over.
Security was tight and dense in the airport. There were two security checkpoints. Two friskings, and not the quick kind, either.
"Blushworthy," is how Starnes described the friskings.
Yet, almost all passengers and security dealt with the hours of stress and anxiety without rancor, she said.
"I actually felt better because of all the extra security," said Karmon's mother, Martha. "Before they left, we had neighbors, former teachers, friends, all calling and wondering if they would get home OK."
The plane arrived in Atlanta on Saturday night. But they couldn't get a connection to Charlotte. Sunday, finally, more than 30 hours after they arrived at the airport in England, Starnes and Taylor were greeted by joyous family in Charlotte.
"They jumped at us," Taylor said. "I was happy to be home, too."
Taylor leaves for college Friday.
She is driving.